A recent Oxfam report highlights that 8 men own as much wealth as 3.6 billion people – half the world. The report makes the point that this concentration in individual wealth drives poverty and inequality.
There are many reasons for this disturbing inequality, in both the developed and the developing world, and one of those reasons is tax injustice, the way multinationals and businesses can evade and avoid paying tax. Oxfam calculate that developing countries are losing $100 billion yearly as a result of tax avoidance.
A great quote by Joseph Wresinski, founder of All Together in Dignity, that I have used numerous times in the Dáil as I find it striking in it’s simplicity and truthfulness; “extreme poverty does not have to exist, human beings create it and they are the ones who can put an end to it.”
It is heartbreaking for me, personally and as a T.D., to listen every day to stories of poverty, of people struggling to live, pay bills, provide for themselves and their families. And into that mix put the added problems for those who are homeless – on the streets, in emergency accommodation, in hostels, hotels or depending on a couch or floor space with relatives and friends. I feel particularly for children and the elderly in those situations. The other factor is the mental health of those experiencing such difficulties.
17th October is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and each year I attend the commemoration events at the North Wall Quay when we hear the stories of individuals from schools, from the community/youth projects, from our New Communities as they relate their experience of poverty, of exclusion and isolation, of addiction and recovery from addiction, of homelessness, of prison.
It is very poignant that this commemoration occurs beside the Famine statues because they remind us of how Ireland, in a unique way, can empathise with those in our world who are experiencing starvation and malnutrition; can empathise with those who have to leave their countries in search of a better life as over a million Irish people did during the Famine; can empathise with those who lose their lives on that journey as so many Irish people perished on the so-called ‘coffin ships’; can empathise with those displaced internally who were evicted because they could not pay rent.
Many of those who speak on the 17th refer to what they call the ‘Shame of Poverty’. My opinion – there is no shame in poverty but there is shame in the economic and tax policies that create, drive and maintain poverty. And it is quite ironic that the commemoration is across the road from the Financial Services Sector – home to banks, multinationals and corporations, some of whose tax policies, or lack of, contribute to global poverty.
The essential question to ask is what kind of a society do we want to live in and I believe the majority would agree that we would all like to live in a more just, fairer and more equal society. That means looking for a different economic model. So, strange as it may seem, I believe that we have to apply ethics and morals to economics, finance and tax because it is those policies that will determine the kind of society we have.
A different economic model would have equality proofing central to policies; it would vigorously implement measures to tackle corporate tax avoidance by requiring all multinational companies to publicly publish, country by country, reports for each country where they operate. That would be a clear signal that we are committed to a fairer, more equal, more just world.
Poverty is an abuse of human rights and poverty drives inequality. The shame is for those of us who allow it to continue.
This is an article I wrote for the February edition of Sacred Heart Messenger